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Soros promises city $6.25 million Philanthropist wants to support programs for after school; $12 million to be matched; 'Community really wants this,' businessman says


George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and financial speculator, pledged $6.25 million yesterday for better after-school programs for Baltimore children -- provided the money is matched by $12 million over the next three years.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke promptly offered $1 million in city funds for the first year's matching requirement, thus leaving $11 million to be raised from public and private sources.

The funds are designated for the Safe and Sound Campaign to expand after-school activities. The campaign was formed three years ago by Baltimore Community Foundation and Associated Black Charities to make the city a healthier and safer place for children and adolescents. The after-school programs are one of five components of the campaign.

"The community really wants this enlarging the education of children," said Soros who has aided similar after-school efforts in New York City. "It's wonderful to be part of such a cooperative effort. I very much hope the community will meet the challenge."

He and Schmoke put on white Safe and Sound sweat shirts to the applause of the program's supporters in the ceremonial room of City Hall. Schmoke called Soros "one of the world's most successful businessmen who all the time is helping to promote some of the best things in society."

Walter Pinkard, co-chairman of the board of Safe and Sound and chairman of Baltimore Community Foundation, promised a successful matching fund drive: "This is a communitywide effort; we are very confident we will meet and exceed this challenge."

The intensive focus on after-school activities would give students more recreational, cultural and intellectual activities -- in part by offering technical help to existing agencies and expanding programs such as those of the Police Athletic League, Child First Authority, Parks and Recreation Department, city schools and elsewhere.

The after-school program, which might also include weekend and summer activities, will be aimed at improving school performance and at reducing dropout rates, teen-age childbearing and other problems affecting young people in Baltimore.

Soros, chairman of the Open Society Fund, made the grant through his local agency, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which opened here in 1997.

The grant is part of at least $25 million that Soros promised to spend here over the next five years to promote economic development and social service programs.

Before yesterday, Soros had pledged $350,000 over two years to Safe and Sound to reduce juvenile homicide and to establish an advisory committee on juvenile violence.

The board of the agency's local arm is scheduled to consider six more grants totaling $690,000 in Baltimore tomorrow. If approved, not counting yesterday's matching grant, the society will have committed more than $4.6 million to Baltimore-area projects in drug addiction treatment, education and youth development, work force development, crime reduction and access to justice.

The city's grant of $1 million yesterday follows another grant of $1 million by the City Health Department to support families with intensified home visits by visiting nurses and other projects.

The objective for those grants in the first phase is to enrich the lives of some 22,000 children and youth, of more than 90,000 in the city, through comprehensive after-school programs, including athletic, artistic or academic leagues. The grants also aim to have 25 percent of elementary and middle school students take part in two educational or cultural outings with their families each year.

"Unlike other cities, there's no nonprofit here to provide technical assistance to after school programs," said Diana L. Morris, director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. "We want children to develop competence in areas besides school."

Earlier yesterday, Soros drove through southwest Baltimore areas with boarded-up homes, empty lots and regular drug markets to Bon Secours Home Health and Hospice at 29 North Fulton Ave. There, he met eight of 10 community fellows who this year each received $48,750 Open Society grants to work on projects in poor communities in Baltimore.

Soros, 68, was born in Budapest, Hungary, survived Nazism and communism, moved to England in 1947, and immigrated in 1956 to this country where he made his fortune speculating in international currency markets.

In addition to the latest Soros grant, Safe and Sound has pledges of more than $17 million by private and public funds.

The other four Safe and Sound goals include creating a network of support "increasing the health, functioning and self-reliance of families with young children," ensuring that all third-graders can read, ending juvenile gun homicides and making commitments to ensuring the success of children and youth.

In an October 1998 report, Open Society Institute international headquarters in New York said "Baltimore is a small city with big problems.

"It is ravaged by drugs The public school system is in flux, with city, state and court-mandated changes in governance, curriculum and instruction.

"Chronic unemployment stands at 8 percent with 30 percent or higher in poor neighborhoods. A high crime rate contributes to a sense of insecurity among residents. And race and class continue to divide the city."

Soros says he chose to invest in Baltimore partly because of the "supportive local government of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke." Soros agrees with Schmoke's view of treating the drug problem as a public health issue, rather than a criminal problem. The six new grants to be considered tomorrow include four involving drug treatment.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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